A week ago, in the epicentre of Sydney's Centennial Park, I came across a mob of West Indians picnicking on the periphery of Lachlan Swamp's dense, sweaty tangle of ferns and paperbarks. Jamaican flags were flying high. I got speaking with a dude with blonde dreads from Trinidad who was teaching a dozen kids how to play steel drums. The sound the kids produced en masse was extraordinary: I was particularly into their epic version of Blondie's The Tide is High. After they'd finished, I asked if I could grab some sticks and have a play on one drum.
I was unaware that steel drums (or steelpans) were made from 55-gallon drums that oil was kept in (Trinidad has had a long history of oil production). Steelpans have been played since 1947; the secret to playing them well is to strike them gently! You tune them with a hammer.
Jean Michel Jarre's leftfield Waiting for Cousteau (1990), is the only CD I've got that features the unusual sonic gleam of the steelpan. The Amoco Renegades played the instrument on that album. The amateur percussionist in me was enraptured by this accidental Sydney meeting with the Caribbean's steel soul.
LJ, November 16 2008.